Paging Village OBs: What is the Truth About Lotus Births?
What’s next for Placenta Week? Lotus birth, or leaving the umbilical cord in tact until it naturally falls off days after birth. This made the news recently, with many, many people fascinated by this rare practice. I wanted to get to the bottom of the medicine behind not cutting the cord, so I paged the amazing doctors at Village Obstetrics and asked them to weigh in.
On a recent trip to New York’s Bronx Botanical Garden “Wild Medicine” exhibit we were astounded by how many important medicines have ancient origins in plants. We learned how ancient people taught each other to chew on special leaves for healing and how they correctly identified lifesaving chemicals. It is in the spirit of reverence for ancient truths that we approach the question of Lotus birth.
What is lotus birth you ask? There is of course a website that describes it. www.lotusbirth.net. Lotus birth is the custom of allowing the placenta to separate by itself from the newborn baby without cutting it. Separation takes 3-10 days. The custom is said to have roots in ancient mystery traditions in places as diverse as India, China and Egypt. Proponents say that lotus birth restores faith in the natural order and is a call to return to the rhythms of nature.
(1) Have you ever seen this done?
In our combined 10,000+ hospital deliveries in our careers we have never seen this done.
(2) Are there any benefits?
We will acknowledge that there may well have been some benefits to ancient peoples — if the baby is attached to the placenta for 10 days it can’t travel or be seen by strangers and get sick. If the placenta dries up naturally no dirty tool is used to cut it. Leaving the placenta attached may have been a proxy for delayed cord clamping which is now appreciated to be good for many babies, especially premature ones. HOWEVER none of these benefits extend to modern time and are in fact eclipsed by the serious health considerations and lost opportunities detailed below.
(3) Are there any risks?
We will divide the risks into health risk and lost opportunity
Postpartum Bleeding. At birth the placenta separates and stops the flow of blood from the mother to the baby through uterine contraction. At any given time a third of mom’s blood volume is going to the placenta. This process is tricky and doesn’t always work quite right. It is easily helped by an attentive doctor or midwife. If you leave the placental separation to the “rhythms of nature” some moms can become severely anemic or critically ill. Its just not worth the risks there.
Infection. While natural separation might be cleaner in ancient times, a careful medical cut to the cord with sterile instruments is far cleaner now. The placenta itself is a large bleeding soft organ. Think brain. Think liver. Think jelly fish. Create in your imagination a jellyfish-brain-liver creature dripping blood and think about how it will surely attract bacteria like an open wound during the 3 to 10 days it takes to dry and fall off. .
Stem cells and cord tissue
An area of great promise in medicine right now is the disease treating potential of cord blood stem cells and cord tissue. In lotus birth it is not possible to collect either type of tissue. To us it is a shame to miss the opportunity to store stem cells for the future.
(4) Would you allow a patient to do this?
The discussion of lotus birth reminds us of a cooking lesson from Dr Worth’s grandmother. As a young girl in Iowa at the turn of the century she was told to always trim the top and bottom from the ham before cooking it. Many years later she learned that this tradition had been passed down in her family not because of flavor or tenderness of meat but because in rural Iowa they only had one meat pan and this was the way the head cook made the ham fit. Our take home lesson is always use common sense and ask questions. Like the small meat pan, sometimes ancient traditions are based on facts that are no longer relevant. We propose lotus birth falls in this category.
Tags: placenta week